ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- All but giving up on efforts to mediate the standoff over Osama bin Laden, Pakistan's president said Monday a U.S. military strike against Afghanistan appears likely, and the Taliban's days are probably numbered.
That blunt assessment by Gen. Pervez Musharraf came as the first relief convoy since the start of the crisis reached Afghanistan's hungry capital, Kabul, and Taliban forces reported gains in the hit-and-run warfare being waged with opposition fighters across Afghanistan's mountainous north.
The Taliban were also bolstering their garrison in the Afghan capital. More than 6,500 fresh troops have arrived in recent days, according to Taliban officials in Kabul.
Pakistan has been in a quandary ever since the Sept. 11 terror attacks that tore through a wing of the Pentagon and toppled the twin towers of the World Trade Center.
It does not want to see its ally, the United States, do battle with the Taliban, the austere Islamic movement that rules next-door Afghanistan with a heavy hand but has brought a measure of stability to the war-battered country. Pakistan is only government in the world to recognize the Taliban as Afghanistan's legitimate rulers.
After suspicion in the suicide hijackings focused on bin Laden, Pakistan agreed to lend its full support to the United States in the war on terror.
Tried to stave off strike
But it made repeated efforts to persuade the Taliban to take steps to stave off an American retaliatory strike -- namely by surrendering bin Laden, their "guest" of the past five years. During that time, bin Laden made Afghanistan the field headquarters for a wide-ranging terror network known as al-Qaida, or "the base."
In an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp., Musharraf acknowledged Pakistan had nothing to show for its diplomatic campaign.
"We were interacting with them so that moderation could take place and maybe this kind of action is averted," he said. "But it appears because of the stand that the Taliban have taken, that confrontation will take place."
The president said it now "appears that the United States will take action in Afghanistan, and we have conveyed this to the Taliban." Asked if the Taliban's days were numbered, he replied: "It appears so."
Pakistan said it would keep trying, even though it saw almost no chance of getting the Taliban to relent.
"Whatever dim hopes are left, possibilities exist," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Riaz Mohammed Khan. "We will remain engaged with the Taliban."
He said Pakistan had no knowledge about U.S. operational plans for any strike.
The Taliban, meanwhile, were trying to woo tribal leaders inside Afghanistan, in an apparent attempt to counter support for the country's exiled former king, Mohammad Zahir Shah. The 86-year-old ex-monarch has been living quietly in exile since 1973, and the Taliban have threatened to kill him if he returns.